Jack Pilla, Ultra Runner, Endurance Athlete, Running Coach

Jack Pilla, Ultra Runner, Endurance Athlete, Running Coach

Jack Pilla shares his photos, stories, advice and tales from his 2013 adventures and the upcoming season.

Jack running through the high Sierra Mountains of Nevada

WHAT TO RUN FOR RACES IN 2013?

Planning for 2013 started out with a number of hopeful races but so many now require runners to register for lotteries to gain entry. It’s become almost impossible to get into all the races that you want. First lottery was held in early December for the Western States 100 Mile in California being run in June. I ran it in 2006 during record heat where temps reached 112 degrees at times. That was early in my ultra running days where I crashed and burned bad but finished. I’ve been trying to get back to redeem myself ever since. But not happening in 2013, another failed lottery attempt. Second lottery was held in mid December for the Hardrock 100 Mile in Colorado being run in July. It’s an incredible 100 mile journey through the high peaks of Colorado. With only about 135 runners allowed, that proved to be hopeless with a thousand plus runners trying to get in. I didn’t even make the waiting list, again. Next up would be the ultimate in endurance and one of my “Dream Races”, the Tor Des Geants in Italy being run in September. This is an awesome race through the Italian Alps stretching some 330 kilometers (208 miles) with 79,000 feet of climbing and 79,000 feet of descending. And this is no stage race. It starts when the gun goes off and finishes when you cross the finish line. Sleeping is optional. The winner last year took 3 plus days to finish. The lottery would be held in mid February. Meanwhile I had some other races to do in January and early February.

EARLY SEASON RACES

While still trying to figure out the plan for 2013 I had already signed up for some early season races. First up was the Bandera 100K race in Bandera, Texas on January 12, 2013. This is just a fun, early season race which I did the year before. Bandera is usually a more desert like climate with lots of cactus plants and dry, loose, gravel type rock. It’s not super technical or mountainous but still a test of one’s abilities. And living in Northern New England, training in the middle of winter is a challenge in itself. But having to train to run in the southern heat adds another element. This year was a little different with moist, humid air, sticky mud yet enough heat to set off some good cramping. Overall, it was a fun time and a good way to escape the winter cold. And the Texans know how to enjoy a running event☺ Just beware of the sotol plant.

The Trails at the Bandera 100K

The Trails at the Bandera 100K

Next up, three weeks later was the Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race in Huntsville, Texas. For this, I traveled down to Texas with a group of local Vermont runners. Last May we had all decided to sign up for this. The Rocky Raccoon course is a loop course with five, 20 mile loops. It makes it easier to plan as you are using the same aid stations for each loop and can conveniently place drop bags with any special provisions. The terrain is gently rolling, nothing too technical but it does have its share of roots. Nothing that bad but you have to be watching or you can catch a foot on one and down you go. On the first 2 loops I went down 6 times but was better for the rest of the race.

Bob and Jack running the Rocky Raccoon 100
The crew from Vermont at the start of the RR 100

As a whole, the finish rate for the race was 67% but for the seven of us in our group from VT running the hundred miles, we had a 100% success rate! Not bad for a group of Northerners☺

THE FINAL LOTTERY

Upon returning from Texas it was time for the draw of the 2013 Tor Des Geants lottery. They allow 660 runners which is larger than most races allow in the states and had about 1400 entries. The lottery was picked and somehow communications were delayed but eventually word came through. ACCEPTED!! Now I had a goal race for 2013 and could start planning for the year.

HOW TO TRAIN FOR A 100 MILE RACE AND ESPECIALLY THE TOR DES GEANTS

Tor Des Geants

The training to get ready for a 100 mile race takes a lot of time, patience and discipline. You want to slowly ramp up the miles to get the body used to the high mileage training. Do it too soon and you’ve missed your peak and worn yourself out. Do it too late and your struggling to get the miles in, can’t taper enough to rest up and come race day you’re exhausted. Typically for me for any 100 mile event I like to crank out 500 miles of good race type terrain training during the last peak training month prior to the event. And leading up to that requires a number of good consecutive 100 mile weeks. But training for the Tor Des Geants will be an experiment in itself as consecutive days of running in the Alps at elevation will be like no other event.

NOW I NEED TO FIND RACES TO PREP FOR THE TDG IN SEPTEMBER!

Now that I knew I had a race in September, it was time to plan ahead. I figured I needed to find as many races as possible along with some good training in the mountains. For races, I found the Don’t Run Boston 50 Mile event located just outside of Boston in the Blue Hills Reservation held on April 14, 2013. It’s all trail on rolling hills and nothing too technical for the most part. This is a low key, unofficial race held by the TARC group. You have the option of running 50 mile or 50k or less if you want. There are no time clocks or chips, just your own watch. And the course isn’t marked. Most of the runners were familiar with the course but for me, I had never been down there before so I knew it might be an orienteering challenge. For the first 15 miles I ran right behind the 2 lead runners who knew the course. Then Anthony yelled back to make sure I took the second left, which I was sure I did. Apparently I missed that turn as I ended up down on some major road. I pulled out my trusty map and I wasn’t even on the map. So back I went only to get lost again and again. And that was my day. At first I was frustrated but then just looked at it as a training run. I did find some aid stations early on for provisions but later on I missed some important ones and not only had to make up my own course but had to ration my fluids as I had 20 ounces of water to last me 2 ½ hours. In the end I ran for 11 ½ hours and probably ran more like a 100k of lost miles with a faded map in hand. The leader finished in just over 8 hours. But still, a good training run. I needed some miles and that I did get.

The Start of the Tarc Don’t Run Boston 50

On a quick note, I headed over to view the Boston Marathon the following day to support two friends who were running it. My original plan was to see them at mile 13 and then take the train in to the finish and wait for their arrival. But I ended up pacing them. I jumped in at mile 13, not sure how far I would go but continued on thinking I could jump on the train at any time but never did. For the last 6 miles of the race my friends were predicted to finish with a race time of 4:09 which is exactly when the first bomb went off. Luckily one of the runners was having some difficulties towards the end and we slowed down. With a half mile to go we were suddenly stopped. Luckily I ran with them instead of going to the finish line. Someone was looking after us that day. And what I saw from the people of Boston was incredible. As we were stopped from running that last half mile and had to stay put for maybe an hour not knowing what was going on, residents came out to help as the stopped runners were getting severely hypothermic from cooling down. Residents and spectators were taking off their clothes and giving them to the shivering runners. Even baby blankets from strollers! Residents were also bringing drinks and snacks. As a former New Yorker, I was proud to be in Boston that day!

WHAT’S NEXT FOR RACES

May 5, 2013 I’ll be running in the North Face 50 Mile Endurance Run at Bear Mtn. in NY. This is a fun, technical course with some good climbing and good rock to navigate over. I figured this would be a great training run for the TDJ.

On May 26, 2013 I’ll be running in the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT. This is 25th running of the event and the second largest marathon in New England. I’m the pace team coordinator for the race. As the coordinator I recruit other runners to lead different pace groups based on finish time. If all the pace group leaders show up on race day, I get to run the marathon myself. But if there are any issues, then I may be leading a pace group myself which could be with a 3:15 finish time or a 5:30 finish time or anything in between. Anyway if I get to run it, it will be a nice way to get in some speed work.

On July 20, 2013 I will be crewing and pacing at the Vermont 100 Mile event which will be good for a 30 mile training run into the dark night but I still need to find a 100 mile race sometime in late June or in July. And then I need to find another race in August. End of June there is the Black Hills 100 Mile in South Dakota, another possibility is the Dirty Girls Run Ultras 48 hour race held just north of Toronto in August. It’s held on a 6 mile loop on a trail. Not my favorite way to go with many multiple loops but being a 48 hour race could be good for time out on the trail to get ready for multiple days in Italy. Time will tell on these other races.

FAVORITE TRAINING RUNS

Here in Northern Vermont we are blessed with the Green Mountains and also not too far away are the White Mountains to the East and the Adirondack Mountains to the West. The mountains only go up to elevations of 4395 feet in Vermont to just over 6000 feet on Mount Washington in NH but what they lack in elevation they make up for in technical difficulties and steep climbing. Some of my favorite runs would be the Mansfield Loop in VT which circles around the Chin of Mt. Mansfield. It goes about 26 miles with varying terrain from rocky single track trails to nicely manicured cross country ski trails to ladders and chutes to climb over. There are some awesome views from the Chin which is Vermont’s highest peak.

At the Summit of Mt. Mansfield

Another favorite training run is the Northern Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire which peaks out on top of Mt. Washington. There are many variations of this but the loop I typically run includes 11 peaks along the way with some great climbing and tricky footing for 26 miles or so This year for maximum training I may opt to make it an out an back which is a good challenge. I did that a few years back which caused some difficulties along the way and afterwards. But I think I’m smarter now and can prepare better….I hope. The weather on Mt. Washington can be a challenge in itself and I’ve been caught in lighting storms along the open ridge line sprinting from peak to peak. And other years I’ve ended up with some bad hypothermia too which has landed me in the infirmary for quite a while until I warmed up. It’s always a challenge on Mt. Washington!

Jack and Joe heading up to Mt. Washington

Preparing for the TDG I’ll need to put in a lot of time on hills. For general hill work I have a favorite which is the Toll Road at Stowe. The road itself is about 4 ½ miles up to the visitor center with a vertical gain of about 2600 feet. Add the Chin for another 1 ½ miles and 535 vertical feet of climbing. Then do loops, some days I do two loops, other days 3. And if the climbing doesn’t wear you out, the downhill pounding most certainly will.

The Tor Des Geants will be the ultimate challenge in an area of the world with unbelievable views. I was in Europe for the Ultra Trail De Mont Blanc two years ago and had an incredible experience which is why I am returning to Europe again. No matter what, it will be an adventurous year with training and races. And thanks to Headsweats for supplying me with hats for my summer and winter escapades!

See you in Italy,

Ciao

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